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What kind of man refuses to cooperate with the government’s efforts to gain access to Americans’ information?
What kind of man shuts down his business rather than betray his customers ?
What kind of man is trying to reinvent email to make it private ?
Late last year, Ladar Levison sat down with me for a Skype interview. I didn’t expect it to go as long as it did. But when it was over, I had perhaps the most extensive, in-depth interview ever done with the man who, more even than Edward Snowden himself , represents the opposite of the NSA. Levison is the programmer who launched a small business and grew it without shareholders or venture capital in order to keep it true to its commitment to private email; who provided Snowden and other customers with private email ; who went out of business rather than give the government access to all his customers’ email ; and who has now joined forces with the “godfather of political cryptography,” Phil Zimmerman, to reinvent email .
Now, on this page, I’m releasing the whole thing. Well, virtually the whole thing. Eighty-four minutes.
Levison is fighting for email privacy on three fronts: technological, legal, and political. In the video, we discuss all three.
But we also discuss why he’s fighting, and whether he thinks other people should do what he did. It’s a discussion that takes us through his views of business ethics and the foundations of a free republic.
And that means it’s an opportunity to try to understand a man who has gone to great risk and expense to defend one of the most contested values in America today: privacy. Hear him talk about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged; about the moral lesson he learned traveling around the country with his grandfather, a retailer; and about the history of freedom in America.
What kind of man is Ladar Levison? Judge for yourself. But if I had to describe him in a single word, I would say that he is, in the best sense of our country’s traditions, an American.
Don’t want to watch 84 minutes? Here are some tips: If you want to hear about Lavabit’s last days, start at the beginning, and if you get bored when the conversation shifts to other subjects, skip to about 40:00 or 46:51. If you want to hear about technology, jump 12 minutes in. If you’re interested in what Levison thinks other businesses should do, skip to 24:17 or 28:54. Atlas Shrugged fans might particularly enjoy the thread of conversation that starts at 31:28. He talks about politics, American history, and threats faced by dissidents beginning around 58:00. And at 1:16:55, he discusses a theme of President Obama’s NSA speech.